The Silence of Summer

Consider this a follow up to my last entry, Where the Hell is Everyone. I don’t know if it’s because it was 97° today. I don’t know if it’s because all of our houses have central air conditioning. I don’t know if it’s because the people who live in my neighborhood are a little older and a little less active. I don’t know if it’s because there aren’t many children in the area. But there is an eerie quiet over my neighborhood to start this summer. A pall if you will.

I know I reminisce and wax nostalgic from time to time. I know many of my readers are cousins and friends and contemporaries who understand my frame of reference, my scope of knowledge and my sense of fairly recent history. I feel unique in many ways with regard to what I know and remember. I was born in 1969 and I have knowledge and memories of five decades. My long memory serves me well and frustrates me at the same time.

In my last blog, I wrote that my neighborhood seemed empty, lifeless. I realize California is in the middle of a drought. I realize it gets hot where I live. But the quiet…it’s downright weird.

I have spent the better part of the past two weekends in the pool, playing music, drinking, swimming (gingerly) and lounging. Aside from a neighbor child’s birthday party recently, I am seemingly the only person outside. I have been taking advantage of the heat and getting in the pool after work. There’s nary a conversation to be overheard.

Tom Skerritt scaring off birds in Steel Magnolias.
Tom Skerritt scaring off birds in Steel Magnolias.

There has been one exception. Last weekend, Friday and Sunday night to be specific, a neighbor lit firecrackers each night – about three packages of blackjacks if I am not mistaken. Apparently my neighbor decided to go all Steel Magnolias Tom Skerritt and scare off the pigeons that have been roosting in their eaves oh some 23 years since their freaking house was built. So, I went all “get off my lawn” and threatened to call the po-po. The firecrackers stopped. They still have pigeons.

This is the extent of the noise in my neighborhood people. That’s it.

I hate air conditioning. I hate it in the car. I hate it in my house. (I do not like it with a mouse). I prefer fresh air. I don’t like being indoors when the weather is pleasant. I don’t even mind extreme heat. With my back injury and subsequent surgery I can’t run for exercise or else I would be outside a helluva lot more.

This is how we stayed cool in the summer in the 1970s.
This is how we stayed cool in the summer in the 1970s.

When I was a kid, you couldn’t keep us inside. Maybe it is the damn video games after all. We’d be out in the six-foot snowdrifts in our snowmobile suits in the winter and running through the neighbor’s sprinklers in the summer. We’d be in our buddy’s or cousin’s pool, we’d be in my backyard playing basketball, we’d be at the park playing baseball, or we’d be riding our bikes or skateboards. If we weren’t on the porch, we’d be in the backyard and folks would be over for hotdogs, hamburgers and beers. Lawn chairs would be unfolded, ice chests would be full and the sounds of children playing and frisbees filled the air.

Does anyone even do picnics anymore? Or do we Californians go to the beach for these activities?

I just don’t know. Maybe I’m wrapped up in my own little world and don’t notice. If that’s the case, great, if not, there’s nothing I can do to about it.

I know some folks around here throw birthday parties for kids and they get together for local sports team championship viewing parties. But nobody is outside. I don’t get it. I don’t understand.

What used to be routine and commonplace has become occasional and infrequent.

Folks used to wash their cars in the driveway, mow their lawns, sunbathe in the backyard and picnic and barbecue and spend the bulk of their time OUTSIDE. Why have we become a society of shut-ins?

Do I even care? Or are these just nostalgic compare and contrast observations of a man pining for his childhood? Hell if I know at this point. Maybe folks in western New York are different than people in Northern California. I wrote last time that I live in a bedroom community. There’s the irony. “Community.”

There doesn’t seem to be much community anymore. Not even a sense or a hint of community. We wave and say “hi” when we do venture outside. We knock on the door on Halloween for trick ‘r treat with our kids. We’ll go to the occasional summer festival or fair. But I can count on one hand how many neighbors with whom I have broke bread.

Again, people here do go outside. They run or walk their dogs. They get in their cars and trucks and SUVs to engage in commerce or attend church. Hell, we may even go somewhere to vote in an election.

As I mentioned, folks don’t sit out front and talk, and now I realize they don’t hang out in their backyards either. The silence of summer is palpable, save one crazy middle-aged man cranking 80s music and partying in his backyard like it’s 1979.

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